Thursday, October 16, 2014

Plot, Locale, Landscape, and Zoning Laws as They Relate to Story

Story has to take place somewhere.  At the outset, the venue is within the imagination, a place that has come on occasion to remind you of some of the more extreme real estate sales persons you've known, men and women who, like your imagination, are trying to sell you things.  The sales persons and your imagination have in common the ardent desire to get you to see possibilities.

One sales person wanted you to see the possibilities in a back yard.  "Gardens,"  she said.  "Exotic gardens, as wild as your imagination."  She also passed along visions, couched in clever questions, of you watching fires in a fire pit, barbecuing, and writing under the umbrella of a large oak, much in the manner one of your favorite writers, D.H. Lawrence, employed.  "Can't thou see yourself being productive here, doing things you'd never done before?"

She had, you recall, above average verbal skills.  In a way, that was her undoing; she had you seeing how much work some of these possibilities would entail, work that would require sums of money your imagination had not as yet showed you how to acquire.  This meant you'd be doing the work, scrounging time away from writing time.  Even then, you could see the possibilities of how much time and work the writing was going to require, with no guarantee of a specific delivery date.

Another real estate sales person asked you to see other possibilities, which, in this case, related to possibilities the neighborhood would evolve into the real estate equivalent of a cash cow.  "You could rent this house to some nice, upwardly mobile couple, which would allow you to travel or support yourself while finishing enough of a novel to get a sizable enough advance to live on."

The more you thought of these real estate brokers, the more you saw the aptness of the analogy between setting, imagination, and story.  You have come closer than you find comfort in admitting to using the same techniques on story projects as these real estate persons were using on you.  

You were in effect waving your hand over the visible scope of an idea, asking--no, pleading with your imagination--to see the possibilities.  This story could serve as a cornerstone for two or three subsequent works, building momentum as it built credibility and plausibility.  This story could open the door on a narrative technique that has the effect of bringing the reader yet closer to the characters than even some of your favorite storytellers.

At the time (and even now)plausibility is a word you use with some frequency relative to story.  The story, its denizens, and its locales must be plausible; they must seem to be as obvious and yet anomalous as the clean-hands dispensers at supermarkets.  Possibilities must be plausible, even though you've moved away from earlier preoccupations with fantasy and magical realism.  You wish your stories to so radiate plausibility that readers will be drawn into them because they transmit a troublesome sense of possibility.

You hope to cause the reader to say, I know this story is plausible because I have been in a situation similar to this and have felt as uncomfortable as Lowenopf's characters are feeling. There is little or nothing arranged about this story.  This story makes me realize how uneasiness sneaks up on people these days to a greater extent than ever before, but I am not knocking that some really serious stuff happened before.

Your stories have taken place in places so ordinary, say the back seat of an AMC Pacer, that you need to add a note of quirkiness or mystery otherwise they would seem too plausible and thus too labored to be taken seriously.

All of this goes on in one way or another in that early stage of the imagination as civic booster, ala Sinclair Lewis's eponymous Babbit.  Your imagination is going over the real estate with you, asking you to consider things, and you haven't yet set foot inside the house.

Real slate or marble on the counter tops.  Serious, oak flooring.  Hey, check out the teak used in the balcony.  You ever see a laundry facility like this in a single-dwelling house?

Story not only has to take place somewhere, that place, however plausible and fraught with possibility, has to have a distinctive personality because nothing can be left to the imagination to deliver.  You have to decide upon and deliver such things as menace, vital decisions to be made, hints at who can be trusted, will the deck flooring withstand another party, who to root for, and that often ignored sense of how the characters will come to terms with this building, this room, this place, this car.

Nobody gets a free ride, not even you.  Even though your presence ought not to be felt in this terrain or landscape or lot or condo, you still have to do all the work, no matter what they tell you.

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